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4/21/2008

mary karr

[photo courtesy of Blue Flower Arts]

Johnny forgot to bring home the lamps from his drum studio, but that's OK. He's quite busy and has a lot on his mind besides old lamps for his book-addicted wife. So, I borrowed one of these lamps from the guest bedroom for nocturnal reading (until we find another). It has suited my purposes well, almost too well. Last night I stayed up until 1:30 am reading a 13-page interview with Mary Karr from the IMAGE journal, #56 (I'm one issue behind). I noticed that Laura Bramon Good also wrote a piece for issue #56, but I forced myself to turn off the light after Karr's interview. [however, I will read Laura's essay this week]

I have aunt Denise to thank for introducing me to Mary Karr's writing. Denise holds the opinion that though I'm well informed book-wise, she knows of books that I need, of which I'm not aware. She is usually right. One time we were strolling 'round BookPeople, and she picked up a paperback of The Liars' Club on sale. She said, "You need this book. I'm buying it for you." I'm not one to turn down free books. I absolutely loved The Liars' Club. It was fascinating, set in Texas, irreverent, sad, very earthy, and my God, Mary Karr can write. It was also one of the first books that served as a big light bulb: I want to write family memoirs. [another was All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg]

After The Liars' Club, I read Karr's follow-up memoir, Cherry. Both books made me salivate over her writing talent. But those two books also made me ache for Mary Karr. Her early life was full of disturbing family events, some extremely shocking and despicable. I wondered not only how she survived, but how she managed to hang on to a sense of humor. I found myself praying for her. Those books revealed she was agnostic, but I prayed earnestly for her conversion to Christianity; for healing. [I'm not the only one who prayed. In IMAGE's interview, Karr mentioned the several letters she received from nuns. In dentists' and doctors' offices, they read her article in Vogue about searching for a place to worship. They wrote to say, "I'm praying for your conversion."]

You can imagine how I flipped my lid when I later read Mary Karr converted to Catholicism and released a new (at that time) book of poetry called Sinners Welcome. I would type out her poem "Disgraceland" here, but I cannot do the poem's form justice. So please, click here. That poem is so honest, gritty, and beautiful. Very clearly God drawing her to Him, though she kicked and cursed the whole way.

I fell asleep with IMAGE's rich interview on my mind. Even more inspiring than Mary Karr's conversion (if that's possible) was that her mother converted to Christianity (Episcopal) before her death. If you've read The Liars' Club, your jaw will drop open, too. Her mother was a bit crazy at times, along with a real, one-time psychotic episode. Not to mention she was a very intellectual, philosophical agnostic. You can read one poem that Mary Karr wrote about her mother in this New York Times article.

I don't think Mary Karr and I see eye to eye theologically, or on certain major points of Christianity. But one thing we do agree on very strongly is the Incarnation. As she said in the interview:

"But in terms of the notion of the incarnation and the transubstantiation, I'm very literal. I'm not a metaphorical Catholic. I don't believe the resurrection is metaphorical. I don't believe it was just about someone coming back from the dead, in which case we'd worship Lazarus, too."

I strongly suggest you buy IMAGE #56 because there is no way I could relate the many Q & A's that kept me up so late. One is that Mary Karr is now working on a new memoir called Lit - "which concerns my journey from a black belt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic (maybe not the Pope’s favorite, but still an on-my-knees spouter of praise and beggar for favors)," said Karr. I laughed quietly a few times so as not to wake up Johnny - Karr is hilarious. Wouldn't you know, this morning I grabbed all of my Mary Karr-related reading to pore over, including The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets. And Karr's book of poetry, Viper Rum, which Denise also bestowed to me.

[as the light waned in our dining room]

Three things before I go ....

One. Part of a beautiful poem by Mary Karr that I read in the interview. It's about she and her son singing from the same hymnal:

[from "Chosen Blindness" in Viper Rum]

.... Now a column of sun

through high windows shines
on his blonde head. His hand
holds half our hymnal, index finger

underlining each word as we struggle
to match up our voices, hold the beat,
find the pattern emerging, feel the light

that glows in our chests, keep it going
.

Two. The closing paragraph from her interview:

"That's what the eucharist changed for me: that was not how I talked to my mother anymore. That is not how I talk to my child. Occasionally I talk to a cabdriver that way. This year I've had a lot of medical issues, lots of doctors and procedures. It's been scary. But at no point in all of this did I shout at anyone, not even myself, for not being able to climb up the stairs, for being too tired. When I was tired, I lay down, and that's what the eucharist does for me. Lying down is not my natural stance."

I relate to that paragraph more than you know. Yep, I've got a temper at times, usually when I'm worn out, scared, and worried. Like the past several months. I can't tell you how thankful I was for our Church yesterday, our friends, Scripture read aloud, and taking Communion; all the while struggling with a sarcastic attitude towards my health. God is merciful, and Church was where I needed to be.

Three. My new favorite blog is Toads Drink Coffee, written by the lovely and funny Margie Haack of Ransom Fellowship. [I know her daughter via the glory of e-mail and a mutual friend, but that's not really important here] Margie had the good fortune to attend Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing, and she shared some great quotes on her blog. One of my favorites:

"After a lecture a young man approached me and said, ‘Mr. Jacobs, I love your work, it has changed my life. I don’t think I have the talent to be a fiction writer or a poet, but I think I could be an essayist."
[-Alan Jacobs, in his discussion on personal essay]

I'm not familiar with Alan Jacobs, but his quote stuck with me. I plan to try my hand at short stories, poetry, and Lord help me, maybe a whole book of fiction, but I tend to think I've got more personal essays and memoirs inside me. It's not because I think I have a natural essay/memoir talent, but I feel that if I get off my butt and work at it - persevere - I might just write a decent memoir one day.

One last thing from Mary Karr's interview (I promise) is how fondly she spoke of her prayer life. How she fought that at first, too, then prayed every day for 30 days. It changed her life from prayerless to prayerful. She even prayed about what to write. I think I'll do the same and see what God has for me to write (instead of fretting). And I'll keep praying for Mary Karr. She's quite a woman, and a seriously talented writer.

3 comments:

robyn a. jones said...

yes, definitely! you will have a number one fan. Keep up the great work!

kate ortiz said...

i'm a bit behind in my image reading, too. i'll be sure to catch up soon. thank you for linking "disgraceland." excellent!

jenni said...

Thanks, Robyn.

Kate, let me know what you think of the interview when you read it.